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Antonio CALDARA (c.1671-1736)
Missa dolorosa [25.57]
Crucifixus for 16 voices [4.33]
6 Motetti for 2 voices [17.00]
4 Motetti for 3 voices [12.49]
Ciaccona Op.2 No.12 [5.06]
John RAVENSCROFT (died before 1709)
Suonata da chiesa No.3 in B minor [7.32]
Ensemble La Silva/Schaap
rec. Cappella dell'Immacolata nel Seminario di Prato, Prato, Italy, December 2000 and January 2014; Reformed Church, Kaaksbergen, The Netherlands, February 2015

Caldara is not a name that comes up all that often. As it happens I was able to attend a performance of two of his pieces at St John's Smith Square last December. Adrian Chandler's brilliant group La Serenissima, already famous for reintroducing so much of Vivaldi's vast and varied output to the modern listener, presented Caldara's large scale Cantata da recitarsi la Notte del Natale, along with the shorter Alleluia dicite. Hearing works of such quality, coming out of the blue so to say, was ample reason to welcome the opportunity to review this CD of his Missa dolorosa along with a selection of smaller works. There can be no remaining doubt that he was a major talent and this very generously priced Brilliant Classics issue should be added to the collections of all lovers of the baroque: a reminder yet again that it didn't stop with Vivaldi, Bach and Handel. No less a figure than successful Newcastle-based composer Charles Avison ranked Caldara alongside Handel, Alessandro Scarlatti and Corelli as a figure of significance.

Brian Pritchard's extensive notes for the CD liner give a good summary of both the CD contents and the range of Caldara's music during his more than fifty-year career from a singer at St Mark's Venice to his final Viennese years as Vizekapellmeister to the Hapsburg Emperor Charles VI. In case anyone asks, the Kapellmeister at the time appears to have been Johann Joseph Fux, he of the famous treatise on counterpoint Gradus ad Parnassum. One characteristic Pritchard emphasizes is Caldara's contrapuntal skill and this is demonstrated very fully in the Missa written very near the end of his life. Along with the voices is a small but very active instrumental group including a prominent bassoon. This last has a lot of work to do so the player Jos Lammerse deserves mention here. Also on the CD are nearly all of the motets he wrote in 1715 in his role as maestro da cappella for his Roman employer Francesco Ruspoli, Prince of Cerveteri . These display a wide range of vocal combinations and technical skills. Each motet is quite short, around the three-minute mark, and all are settings of religious texts as is appropriate for the dedicatee Cardinal Pietro Ottoboni. The Crucifixus is of uncertain date but probably from the Vienna years. This piece displays great skill in its writing, unusually for four choirs each of four similar voices. The Ensemble La Silva perform all this with skill and enthusiasm. Just occasionally I wondered about the pitch of some voices but any drift is rapidly corrected and the concert as a whole is very satisfying.

Adding a little contrast to the mainly vocal programme is one very impressive instrumental Ciaccona by Caldara, performed with two violins, one viol and organ continuo, and a Suonata da chiesa by the English composer John Ravenscroft. He worked in Italy, studied with Corelli and is known for two sets of trio sonatas published in 1695 and 1708. The first set, including this piece, were mistakenly published under Caldara's name early in the 20th Century. Since both composers were influenced by Corelli, this dramatic B minor piece makes a suitable interlude after the Missa dolorosa on this well filled CD.

The recordings, though made in two different venues fifteen years apart, are perfectly acceptable. Those who own larger speakers may notice a curious low-pitched 'hum' accompanying the first few tracks of the mass. I could not decide whether it was local noise in or near the Prato Cappella, or a recording fault. It is very faint and very deep so it may well not be noticeable and it certainly should not put people off the disc.

Dave Billinge



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